In the early days of the pandemic, you probably heard somebody say something to the effect of “well, at least some good [insert art here] will come out of it”. These people presume that comedy, music, and literature have boom times that coincide with human misery, which is a pretty bleak way of looking at things.
That supposed wave of incredible artwork has yet to crash down, and yet people are rushing out to find literature that reflects their current experiences and fears. It should be no surprise, then, that Image Comics has brought us a translation of Jared Muralt’s The Fall, a European comic that focuses on an indistinct apocalypse heavily affected by a summer flu, to fill that demand.
Initially published before Covid hit, The Fall was an internationally acclaimed comic before it was topical, and while some may feel the story somehow prescient, it’s actually—relievingly—a perfectly serviceable survivor’s tale without the present-day drama.
Concerning itself with a nation (and world) in much more dire straits than our own, the illness is only a fraction of the apocalypse our characters are facing — a heatwave and water-shortage start us off. Unspecified political unrest looms, and the military of our unnamed nation is out in force. The economy is in no great shape, and our protagonist has just lost his job, making food even scarcer than the weather has already made it.
All those pre-apocalyptic concerns feel superfluous to the story that wants to be told; like a lot of recent apocalypse tales, it seems disinterested in origin nuance, more interested in being within the rubble than showing us how the world came to be rubble. This makes the first portion of this volume, which sets up a mourning family and stumbles to get them on their grand adventure, feel like wasted time, information better suited to be delivered in flashback or—more interestingly—never at all.
The stumbles of the story’s opening — unsure handling of a family dynamic and setting — are overshadowed, then, by the end of the book. The standard family unit is stripped and shifted, other survivors step into surprising roles, and Muralt gets to work at the most interesting facet of apocalyptic stories and the book itself: the formation of a new community, under adversity.
Muralt has an obvious sense of style that anticipates its stronger second half. Each character is unique, visually realized, and their presence in space feels almost tangible, whether dwarfed by a tenement building or enveloped in a snowy field. A whole lot of narrative space is provided, in the artwork, for quiet moments of exploration and introspection — the emotional desolation of being alone in an empty city or hungry, looking for food in the woods feels palpable, and these moments feel much more important than the interpersonal intrigues and implied terror of the story.
While it takes its time to land, The Fall‘s first volume eventually finds its footing, delivering a unique sensibility that feels clean and powerful. It is not, despite the heavy marketing implying otherwise, another The Walking Dead or The Road, but something distinctly of its own tone and promise.
Now that the world has fallen and the real work of survival is at hand, The Fall Vol. 1 is a brief taste of what I can only hope is a much more fulfilling experience — one that really sees Muralt’s open-air contemplations and beautiful silence better utilized. I keenly await Volume 2.
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